From The Desk Of Over The Rhine: Roots On The Rails (An Unforgettable Alchemy Of Music And Trains)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Over The Rhine issued its debut album. The Ohio-based husband-and-wife duo of multi-instrumentalists/vocalists Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have marked the anniversary with new album The Long Surrender, which was produced by Joe Henry at his Garfield House home studio and features an assortment of musicians handpicked for the project by Henry, including Lucinda Williams. Though Detweiler and Bergquist had never worked with Henry or his assembled backing band before, The Long Surrender was finished in less than a week. The fan-funded, 13-track album was just released via OTR’s Great Speckled Dog Records, which the duo named after Elroy, their much-loved Great Dane who passed away last year. Detweiler and Bergquist will also be guest editing all week. Read our brand new Q&A with Detweiler.

Karin: Recently, we returned home from a train trip through the high desert of the Southwest. What extravagant beauty. The sun dresses herself in the most expensive gowns each evening only to strip them off, leaving them to lie like peacock feathers discarded on the horizon. And then she goes to bed, not necessarily alone: Her minions Venus and Mars linger and then follow her down. If you’re from the Midwest, you don’t even want to know how gorgeously comfortable the weather is in the high desert much of the year. Two months later, it is winter, and here in south-central Ohio we have snow and freezing drizzle. It’s gray and cold.

Touring musicians find themselves, much of the time, hurtling down the highway, keeping it between the lines, running like a pack of dogs from city to city, the venues often surrounded by all things urban, concrete and rebar. Exhaust fumes, neon, halogen and flashing red and blue. It’s usually all about the energy, the rush and flushed cheeks of the city, where it can feel like there is only silence in the white noise. If every now and then we can take a detour into something unknown and it involves a passenger train—we do it.

We met Charlie Hunter a few years back when we were invited to join Cowboy Junkies on their Roots On The Rails musical train ride across Canada. Charlie has been orchestrating these adventures for more than a decade now. When he offered us our own Over The Rhine train tour, we packed our bags. (Not that our bags are ever completely unpacked, but you know …we were way in.)

Our train pulled out of the historic Union Station in Los Angeles (the architecture itself a remarkable combination of styles with art-deco flourishes). And so began our five-day musical adventure through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, The Painted Desert, Winslow, Arizona and the Grand Canyon. We hunkered down at beautiful La Posada Hotel in Winslow for a couple days, where we were treated to the paintings of Tina Mion. A fabulous bonus.

We had folks fly in for the Over The Rhine train from Germany, Sweden, the U.K., Canada, Alaska and all over the U.S. to join us for this adventure. It really turned out to be an unforgettable week. (And we do have another Over The Rhine train trip planned for September.)

But yes, Charlie Hunter has an unbelievable knack for putting these musical train rides together in many different configurations. If you’re looking for a week out of context that might just change your life, you really should check out his website. After all, how often can musicians and music lovers all climb aboard the same train and make a little history together?

Video after the jump.